Highlights

  • BJP promised 'Olympics Mission' to host Games in Gujarat in 2036
  • Many cities are getting cold feet over hosting Games due to high cost
  • Debate growing over alleged lack of benefits versus high expenditure

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Should Gujarat host Olympics? Good, bad, ugly of BJP's election promise explained

Ahead of the Gujarat elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party has said that if it wins, it will launch a 'Gujarat Olympics Mission' to host the Games in the state in 2036.

Cheering crowds, famous faces, and a competition with high stakes - there are many similarities between Olympics, considered the pinnacle of sports, and Indian elections. Now, the two arenas appear to be converging even more deeply.

Ahead of the Gujarat elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party has said that if it wins, it will launch a 'Gujarat Olympics Mission' to host the Games in the state in 2036.

While the romance of the Olympics persists, more and more cities are realising that hosting the Games is more of a nightmare, than a dream come true. Let's take a look at this phenomenon, what's driving it, and whether it makes sense for Indian cities to continue to bid for the Olympics.


THE COST

The biggest argument against hosting the Olympics, especially in a developing country, is the humongous cost, which almost always exceeds the budget.

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For the recent 2020 Tokyo Games, which were held in 2021 because of Covid, the initial estimate was $7.3 billion. The actual cost hit $28 billion, with some estimates going even higher. Rio de Janeiro hosted the 2016 Summer Games with an estimate of $14 billion, which ultimately went up to $20 billion.

For the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia's estimate was $10.3 billion. The final cost - a mind-boggling $51 billion. London had set an estimate of $5 billion for the 2012 Summer Games, but ended up spending $18 billion.

With the sporting extravaganza becoming a money guzzler, many prospective hosts have started getting cold feet.


WITHDRAWAL OF BIDS

Many cities have been withdrawing their bids to host the Games over cost concerns. Beijing won the 2022 bid after both Oslo and Stockholm withdrew from the race. Boston withdrew its 2024 bid saying that the city's future cannot be 'mortgaged'. For the 2024 Games, Budapest, Hamburg, and Rome also revoked their bids.

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Even wanting to make a bid to host the Olympics can be quite an expensive exercise.

It costs millions of dollars to prepare for submitting a hosting bid. From planning, to hiring consultants, and organising events and travel, cities have to spend between $50-100 million. Toronto cancelled its plan to bid for the 2024 Games after it decided it cannot afford $60 million for the analysis. Tokyo spent $150 million to bid for the 2016 Games, but still lost.


THE DEBATE

Those in favour of hosting the Olympics claim that the benefits outweigh the costs. But the debate is yet to be settled.

The proponents claim that the Games provide a consumption boost which helps the economy. The critics argue that every Olympics since 1960 has overshot its budget by 172% on average.

Proponents say that the sporting extravaganza creates employment opportunities for the locals. But experts have said that most of the new jobs are temporary, and not long-term.

Another argument in favour of hosting the Games is that the city becomes a big tourist attraction. But this can be blunted by high prices, crowding, and security measures making travel and stay difficult.

Another plus-point is that the host city's residents end up getting new infrastructure and better amenities. But critics say that many facilities are built on debt, and it is the taxpayers who end up repaying the loans for decades.

The final benefit is that athletes get specialised venues for training. But in many places, the facilities lie unused after the Games. Critics say that these did not exist before the tournament because they were not viable.

There are many instances of Olympics facilities becoming white elephants after the Games conclude.


AFTERMATH OF THE GAMES

Beijing's famous 'Bird's Nest' stadium requires $10 million a year to maintain, and is largely lying unused. In Athens, most facilities for the 2004 Games are now derelict, after having contributed significantly to Greece's debt crisis. Authorities in South Korea are expected to bear an annual deficit of $8.5 million to maintain unused facilities built for the 2018 Winter Games. Meanwhile, it took Montreal 30 years to repay its debt for the 1976 Summer Games.

It is difficult to imagine the scale of the Olympics - more than ten thousand athletes from over 200 countries, participating in around 300 sporting events, and lakhs of spectators to watch them.

All of this requires massive supporting infrastructure, apart from the obvious facilities like stadia. Cities hosting the Summer Games must have at least 40,000 available hotel rooms. Also, to handle all this traffic, countries have to upgrade or build new roads, local transport, rail lines, and airports.

Over the last few decades, the Olympics became a way for developing countries to showcase their advancement. But recent events, like the Covid pandemic, have highlighted the gaps that still remain in the modern development discourse.

In such a situation, a wider debate about the cost of hosting the Olympics, and whether the money should be spent elsewhere, may be important before such decisions are taken.

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